Book progress

I thought the subject and title of my book was supposed to be a big secret until publication, but I learned from one of my recent workshop attendees that it’s already listed on Amazon!  That seems to make it official, this is really going to happen on October 1st. So you might be wondering “how’s it going?”

So far, I’m ahead of my deadlines. I’ve completed 24 out of 101 as I write this. That’s a good place to be, but I have previous commitments coming up which could put me behind; all the more reason to try to stay ahead as long as I can.

Someone asked me “Is it fun?” Yes, it is! Every day that I draw, I’m drawing something different. Some of them I know how to draw, and some of them I have to figure out. Since drawing is all about seeing, nothing is impossible, it’s just a matter of time. Each one takes me 3-4 hours, including scanning, adjusting and writing.

I had a small panic tonight when my computer inexplicably stopped communicating with my scanner and the usual fixes of re-launching the application and restarting the scanner didn’t work. After 90 minutes of looking up tech support answers, reinstalling drivers, etc., what finally worked was to reboot my computer.  Whew!

Sorry, I can’t show you any samples….

My two-day workshop in St. Augustine, FL

Over a year ago, Hanneke Jevons and Bill Shoemaker, president and vice-president of CPSA DC117 St. Augustine, FL invited me to teach a two-day workshop for their chapter in 2017. I was very flattered! This was going to be my first time teaching a workshop “on the road”, outside the San Francisco bay area. We decided on the theme of “Landscape Textures and Techniques in Colored Pencil”, based on the “winning power” of my trees–three have been in CPSA International Exhibitions, two of those have won significant awards in it, all three have sold (one for $3600), and they seem to be admired far and wide. Probably because my admiration of remarkable trees comes through in my drawings of them….

I was grateful to have plenty of time to work out the details and even “test drive” the workshop in one-day form locally. Grasses, moss, bark, leaves, and rocks each pose challenges for which I’ve figured out solutions.

We agreed to limit registration to 24 students, and wow! It sold out so quickly, they didn’t even get to advertise it.

As the time drew near, I gathered the materials for each student: a class outline, drawing papers, an extra piece of plain paper for a hand shield, reference photos, four luscious Caran d’Ache pencils (two Pablo, two Luminance) and information about them courtesy of Creative Art Materials, colorless blender, value finders, stylus, and poster putty. I wished for a way to take along some interesting bark and moss from my collection, but they are too delicate to survive transport (they don’t even like being moved to dust under them on the shelf).

Hanneke generously offered to host me at her home.  She picked me up from the Daytona airport at midnight on March 2. The next day, we had a yummy breakfast at the Funky Pelican in Flagler Beach, she gave me a tour of the area, I got to see the chapter’s show on display at the Flagler County Art League‘s gallery in Palm Coast, we assembled the student packets, we set up the workshop room at the Palm Coast Community Center, and we had a great dinner with Bill and a couple of other folks. The weather was perfect, in the 60s with no excessive humidity, and I was delighted to have the opportunity watch an active osprey pair with their nest just a couple of blocks from Hanneke’s house.

Saturday we focused on grasses and bark. Sunday we focused on moss and rock, and then launched into a bigger project of the base of a tree, with the encouragement that by then they knew the tools and techniques they needed to tackle it. I won’t bore you with the details…. I’ll let their photos tell you! I was very pleased with everyone’s progress–they really “got it”, even those who went through a period of frustration first.

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I gave everyone an overnight homework assignment between Saturday and Sunday, to find and bring in some natural item with texture. I made a bet with Hanneke that fewer than half would remember to do it, and she wisely took the bet, because I was wrong! We had quite an assortment on display for Sunday, from a dried palm seed stalk, to rocks and even a bird nest. I wish I’d thought to take photos of them…..

Sunday evening, Bill and I had a tasty dinner at Bob Evans, a restaurant we don’t have in California that I miss from my years in the midwest. Unfortunately, our pleasant evening was marred by witnessing a fatal bicycle/SUV collision, which shook us both up.

On Monday morning, Hanneke took me to see the trees at Princess Place Preserve and her little farm and cows, before taking me to the airport for my return trip.

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I can’t thank Hanneke and Bill enough for making this workshop trip possible!

I’ll be teaching the one-day version of this workshop again next Saturday (March 25) for CPSA DC 214 Los Angeles. I can’t wait!

 

Get a cutting mat!

A couple of years ago, I finally broke down and bought a 24″ x 36″ self-healing cutting mat and an aluminum meter stick. Now I wonder why I waited so long!

I buy drawing paper in 22″ x 30″ sheets (or even larger sometimes) for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s much cheaper to cut smaller sheets of the dimensions I really want from these, than it is to buy pre-cut standard sizes
  2. Some of the papers I like are only available as large sheets.

Furthermore, mat board is only available in 30″ x 40″ or larger sheets.

Here’s what I used to do–perhaps this sounds familiar to how you work.  Starting with a large sheet of paper or mat board, I measured from each end, made hash marks in the right spots, and lightly connected them with guide lines with an 18″ metal ruler and pencil.  Four hash marks, two intersecting lines. Then I followed the lines with my ruler and utility knife. For anything longer than 18″, I had to carefully move and align the ruler and make more hash marks, lines and cuts.  All too often and despite my effort, these longer lines or cuts weren’t perfectly aligned. Or my final dimensions were a little off, so my cut paper wasn’t perfectly rectangular.  But I didn’t know it yet!  I lightly marked a 1/2″ margin inside the edges all around and spent days or weeks creating my drawing within the margin.  Then when I finished and prepared to mat it with a 1/4″ margin all around, I discovered that the drawing’s dimensions were a little “off”!  DOH!

With the cutting mat and meter stick, I simply line up the edges of the full sheet with the mat’s grid, lay the meter stick along the line I need, and cut along it. Done! For the inside margin lines, same thing:  I line up the cut paper on the mat, lay the meter stick along the line I need, and lightly draw the margin line along it. Done! And both the cut dimensions and the margin box are truly rectangular. Perfect dimensions in a fraction of the time.

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Ready to cut an 8″ x 10″ from a larger piece of drawing paper

Today I cut 5 sheets of 26″ x 40″ Stonhenge paper into 60 sheets of 8″ x 10″ in only about 45 minutes, working at a leisurely pace. And they’re all perfect, according to how well they stacked.

You might be saying “What about the fact that a meter stick is 39″ and a full sheet of mat board is 40″? I lay my 18” ruler atop the meter stick to effectively extend it.

The cutting mat also has lines denoting 45- and 60-degree angles (but I haven’t needed those yet).  And if you prefer metric measurement, two edges of the mat are marked in centimeters.

When not in use, I slide my cutting mat behind my desk against the wall, and hang my meter stick on a nail.

Self-healing cutting mats of various sizes, and aluminum measuring sticks are available at any art supply store, and they’re not expensive. If you cut paper or mat board more than a couple of times a year, I recommend the investment. You, too, will wonder why you waited so long!

Every four seconds

During the afternoon of my most recent workshop, while we were all heads-down working on the next light layer of color, one of my students said “You look at your reference every four seconds.  I timed you.” I laughed, because I was unaware that anyone was watching me so closely and also because I was unaware of how frequently I check my reference.

It makes sense, though. When your goal is realism, close observation is key whether you’re working from a photo or from life. From one moment to the next, I’m figuratively “connecting the dots” that I’ve noticed in the details of color, line and form. I have observed beginners look for awhile at their reference and then draw without looking at it again for awhile, maybe even a couple of minutes, then wonder where they went astray. I think this is because we naturally believe we “know” what something looks like and work from that, rather than setting that belief aside to truly observe. Checking your reference every few seconds is a good habit to get into.

When I was learning to drive, the driving instructor hammered into us that we should check our mirrors every eight seconds. I still remember him repeating over and over “Mirror check….mirror check…mirror check.” Finally, one fellow student challenged him “Why? What’s behind us doesn’t matter.” He quickly responded “What’s behind you might be next to you in a moment.” There’s a certain parallel, here:  driving well requires moment-to-moment observation and awareness to avoid unpleasant surprises, and so does drawing well.

Here’s an idea for how to get yourself to check your reference more often: there are timer apps that can be set to ping at regular intervals. Try setting it to ping every ten seconds (for starters) as you draw. Whenever it pings, take a quick look at the spot on your reference that you’re working from. Don’t just glance at it, see it.

Drawing is all about seeing, so keep seeing.

I signed a book contract!

In early December, out of the blue, I received an email from someone at a well-known publishing company, asking if I would be interested in writing an art book. My thoughts quickly shifted through:

  • surprise – that a publisher came to ME
  • skepticism – whether the inquiry was legit
  • astonishment – that it was real
  • excitement – that it is a huge opportunity
  • regret – because I didn’t think I could take it with my existing commitments
  • speculation – on what I could omit from my year’s schedule in order to do it
  • worry – that if I signed the contract, something bad might happen
  • worry – that if I turned it down, I’d never get an opportunity like this again
  • confidence – that I can do this

After some back-and-forth, some consultation with other authors, and some negotiation, I signed the contract mid-January!

I’m not allowed to reveal anything about the book itself beyond what I’ve already said.  But it will be a VERY busy year through the end of August, drawing, scanning and writing to meet my monthly deadlines.  I won’t be able to share any of my images or text as I progress (sorry!).  Until the book is finished, I won’t be doing any new artwork of my own, and I’ll only be able to enter a few shows (with work I’ve already completed).  I start just as soon as I finish the portrait I have on my drawing board right now.  This doesn’t mean I won’t be writing blog postings, only that they won’t be about the book.

I have to pinch myself to remember this is really happening; I never imagined that someday I’d have a book contract as part of my art career!  This will be part of my art legacy someday, so I plan to focus and give it my best.  Wish me luck!

Paper furniture

My whole life, I wished for a flat-file cabinet (also known as a map cabinet) in order to store my larger sheets of drawing paper nice and flat, keep them clean and out of danger of getting wrinkled, creased, smudged or punctured.  About five years ago, I finally had a nice oak one made by an older gentleman in the Sierra foothills.  I had it made to fit 22″ x 30″ paper.  It turned out great.  The only problem is, it turns out that 22″ x 30″ paper with a deckled edge (such as Stonehenge paper) is actually 22.5″ x 30″.  DOH!  So one edge sticks out of the drawer, continually taunting me like a child with its tongue out: “You goofed and you can’t fix this!”

Since then, I’ve come to own even larger sheets of paper, 30″ x 40″.  They got stashed in a stack under the guest room bed, or behind a dresser, or rolled up inside a cabinet.  It’s the best I could do, but far from ideal–they could still end up dusty, scuffed or creased, in any combination.  All overnight guests were warned: Do NOT shove anything under the bed!

Thanks to my continuing to work full-time as a software engineer, which subsidizes my serious art habit, I decided this year that I could afford to finally buy an even larger flat-file cabinet.  I could no longer find the gentleman who made my first one; he was 80 when he made it, so he may have died?  I spent a couple of weeks poring over Google search results and eBay listings, trying to find a good used one.  Unfortunately they were all the wrong size, beat up, without drawer slides, or 2000+ miles away with no way to examine before purchase or do a return and refund.

So I allowed myself to consider buying new.  They’re so expensive!  And even then, most companies that sell them only provide a few options.  But I finally found an online retailer, Madison Art Shop, that offers quite a few configuration, size and material options.  After several days of pondering and asking questions, I placed my order.  Without telling you what I paid, the shipping charge alone was over $300!

Last week, it arrived from the manufacturer in Beaverton, Oregon–all 408 lbs, on its own pallet.  It’s here!  It’s here!

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Hm, this thing IS big!  I already knew it was going to be too big to fit in my little studio, even if I moved the smaller flat-file cabinet out.  So my husband agreed I could set it up in the living room.  The real effort began.  Underneath the plastic wrap and nylon straps, we found four crates, two of which each weighed almost 200 lbs.  We figured out how to get them up the two steps and through the front door without hurting ourselves by using a couple of dollies.  We were impressed with the packing; every piece and surface was in perfect condition.  The final assembly instructions called for little more than a Phillips-head screwdriver.  Over the next few days, it came together.  The base to the bottom cabinet, the cap to the top cabinet, the two halves together, the handles on the drawers, and finally, the drawers into the cabinet.  I wiped down all surfaces to remove wood dust residue.

Here it is!  My beautiful new 30″ x 42″ 10-drawer birch flat-file cabinet, with metal slides.  This puppy isn’t going to budge in an earthquake.  The drawers require a satisfying little nudge to finish closing, which provides the tension to hold them closed so they won’t slide open on their own.

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It just needed two final touches: I got barrier paper from Accent Arts to line the drawers (this protects the valuable drawing paper from the acid that wood leaches over time, which yellows anything with which it is in constant contact), and I had a thin sheet of clear acrylic cut by TAP Plastics to protect that gorgeous birch wood top.

I was very happy today to extricate the large sheets of paper from all those hiding places  and lay them in their new home.  And happy to stop those 22.5″ x 30″ sheets from sticking their collective tongue out at me from the smaller cabinet.

Now the new cabinet only sticks something out to offer me lovely, pristine drawing paper!

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Yes, it was expensive.  But this very well-made piece of furniture will last the rest of my life, and will probably go on to serve another artist, and someone else after that, for 100 or even 200 years.  No buyer’s remorse for me!

The (back) cover of a book!

I’m a couple of months late in tooting my horn about this. I blame my broken collarbone, because the break happened just a day or two after this happy milestone, before I had a chance to sit down and write about it.

In early October I received my advance copy of Strokes of Genius 8: Expressive Texture, a beautiful hard-bound art book from North Light Books edited by Rachel Rubin Wolf.  My Tree of Character was selected for inclusion in it almost a year ago–books take a long time to assemble.  So I hastily opened the package and started browsing through it, marveling at the quality of all the drawings that mine was honored to be among and noting that the color fidelity for mine was quite good.  Then I flipped it over to check out the back cover, and I almost dropped it: my Tree of Character IS the back cover!  This was the best surprise of 2016!

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A couple of friends asked me “Did they have your permission to do that?” and “Did they pay you extra for using it that way?”  Yes, you grant publishers pretty liberal permission to use your images when you submit them for possible inclusion in a book.  And no, you receive no payment for being included inside or out, just bragging rights!